Energy policy in 2019 – net zero and no White Paper

2019 was the year in which we were promised that the Energy White Paper would be published, with “early summer” the proposed release time. Then, on 12 June, Theresa May, as one of her final acts as Prime Minister, announced legislation to commit the UK to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

In Energy Spectrum 670, we speculated as to how this ambitious new target would impact the White Paper. CEO Gareth Miller said: “There are heightened expectations that it will set out the big policy levers to commence the journey to net zero. Rightly so. BEIS is unlikely to have been taken by surprise by the need to accommodate net zero, knowing as it did that the CCC would be publishing its advice in May. Therefore, the White Paper has been prepared with this backdrop in mind.”

Gareth speculated that the White Paper would include direction on new nuclear funding and carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS).

The White Paper?

On 23 July, BEIS issued eight key papers on different aspects of the energy and carbon chain (see Figure 1). Greg Clark was replaced as Business Secretary by Andrea Leadsom shortly after, following Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister and Conservative party leader. No White Paper was issued before the Summer Recess.

In Energy Spectrum 679, Head of Relationship Development Robert Buckley said: “By releasing what appear to be supporting documents for an Energy White Paper, BEIS is highlighting areas where its thinking is most advanced and, presumably, those where Ministers were keenest to engage.”

He continued: “As the ministerial team changed the day after the papers were released, we do not know for sure that the new group holds the same priorities. Perhaps the departing team was trying to reassure investors of the areas where there is sufficient agreement to move forward. Yet without the vision of a White Paper, their efforts may well be in vain.”

General Election 2019

During the 2019 General Election campaign, all of the major parties highlighted net zero as a key policy, with opposition parties pushing for earlier targets. The Conservatives won a large majority, promising action on offshore wind and CCUS, as well as the creation of a Cabinet Committee on Climate Change, chaired by the Prime Minister.

The Queen’s Speech on 19 December saw the government promising to publish its National Infrastructure Strategy alongside the first Budget, setting out “further details of the government’s plan to invest £100bn to transform the UK’s infrastructure”. Additionally, it mentioned energy policy pledges which were already included in the Conservative Party manifesto. There was no mention of the White Paper.

The Queen’s Speech did highlight the UK’s co-hosting of COP26 in 2020, which offers the UK a chance to show leadership on climate change and will put pressure on the government to accelerate action.

Energy and Clean Growth Minister Kwasi Kwarteng told Parliament on 7 January 2020 that the government plans to publish an Energy White Paper in 2020, “which will address the transformation of the energy system in line with our net zero commitment”. Given how many times we were told that it would be released in summer 2019, many may well take this with a pinch of salt, especially with a government wrangling with exiting the EU. However, there is plenty of pressure for government leadership on energy at this critical time.

For a look forward, we will be releasing a free Insight Paper in the coming weeks considering the possible big developments in the energy sector in 2020.

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Publication | Energy Spectrum